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5 Common Marathon Mistakes

Posted by: on September, 12 2013

Published on Competitor.com and written by Sabrina Grotewold

Avoid these common mistakes and get the most out of yourself on race day.

Whether you’re training for your first marathon or your 25th, every runner faces anxiety about the 26.2-mile distance. So many variables, both in and out of a runner’s control, can dictate the type of experience and performance a runner has on race day. It’s true that we can’t do anything about things that are out of our control except manage our reactions to them, but there are many things that are within a marathoner’s control that can be determined long before race day dawns. Here’s a guide to help you avoid some of the most common marathon mistakes.

1. Overtraining & Undertraining

It’s true that to achieve a personal record at any distance requires executing new strategies—from increased mileage to marathon-specific workouts to even a different, but well rehearsed, fueling plan—but showing up at a marathon start line without an adequate-for-your-body taper, sore and taxed legs, an injury, or ill-stocked glycogen stores will almost guarantee a bonk.Timing clock at finish line of marathon race with runners crossing finish line

And while toeing the start line a little undertrained may end up working out for some more experienced distance runners, too few completed long runs will make the last 10K of the race much more painful than it needs to be. In short: Respect the distance.

2. Completing Long Runs Too Fast

“During the 40 years that I’ve coached marathoners, even a slightly-too-fast long run pace has resulted in injuries, lingering fatigue, mental burnout and slower race times,” noted Olympian and monthly columnist for Runner’s World who has coached over a million runners through his training programs. “When runners get a reality check on their goal and then pace the long runs at least two minutes-per-mile slower than current marathon pace, most of the issues go away.”

3. Experimenting On Race Day

There’s a reason this statement has become a running cliche of sorts—because it’s true. The opportunity for testing new paces, nutrition, sports drinks, socks, racing flats or even a hat ended with your last long run. Stick to what you know and what you’ve tried during training so you can contemplate things you can’t control on race day, like the weather.

4. Going Out Too Fast

Most coaches and experienced marathoners will tell you: The marathon doesn’t become a race until the final 10K. In order to reach the final 6.2 miles with enough juice in your legs to race toward the finish, you need to relax and settle into a rhythm for the first 20 miles. This is the key to a negative split (running faster over the second half than the first).

5. Placing Too Much Emphasis On Time

“Runners can set themselves up for emotional failure by pinning their goals, dreams and marathoning aspirations on finish time,” says coach and author of “Marathoning for Mortals” Jenny Hadfield, who offers marathon training programs on coach Jenny.com. “Elite runners race for the strongest performance on the day; time is only an outcome of the race performance. Unless, of course, they’re going for a world record. Mortals tend to do the opposite. They define success based on the finish time. Every marathon is a mystery and each holds a unique set of challenges. The key is to run the marathon you’re in and race for the personal win. Go in with a goal to run your best on the given day and let the clock be the outcome of that performance. Every marathon finish is a gift.”